Artist Profile – Jehane Boden Spiers

Words by Jenni Davidson

Running an open house at the annual May Artists Open Houses festival and a chance meeting at a book group has taken textile artist Jehane Boden Spiers down an unexpected path.

She has run popular open house The Yellow House since 2001 and co-founded in 2002 to provide a virtual open house for her own and fellow exhibitors’ work all year round.

After having children, she was contemplating the problems of continuing with her artwork while looking after a young family, when she met her now business partner, Sue Bateman, at a book group. This led to them founding art licensing company Yellow House in 2011, which acts as an agency for artists’ work being used on cards, calendars and in books.

On the face of it, this seems like quite a departure from working as an artist and running an open house, but according to Boden Spiers it’s all a continuation of the same thing.

“It was never solely about my own work,” she says of the open house. “It was about curating, putting people together, balancing all that.”

Jehane Boden Spiers’ textiles are collages of appliqué, machine embroidery and print incorporating text and image, and selecting images for licensing continues the theme of assembled images from her own work.

“The thing that draws me is the psychology of images, why people choose an image over another. That part of the business really fascinates me,” she says.

Being an artist whose own work has been both commissioned and licensed helps with the licensing business, according to Boden Spiers. She knows how things are made and can offer advice on how to reproduce a piece of work, and often suggests to an artist what they might produce.

“It still feels very connected to the art and the creativity,” she says. “I think that’s very important.”

“It’s nice if people can understand it’s not just a transaction.”

Art licensing has also open her mind to influences she wouldn’t have looked at before. Work she selected for the Open House had to be something she wanted to live with for a month, but there’s no such limitation on the work she licenses.

“It’s healthy for an artist to look at as many different images as possible,” she says, “but often you end up sticking with what you’re interested in.”

“It changes your own perceptions, not necessarily of beauty, but of what you accept.”

Going to art exhibitions, blogging and social media for the company and the constant dialogue with clients and publishers has been almost like keeping a student sketchbook again, she says.

Yellow House covers everything from heritage images from the collections of Glasgow Museums to small scale contemporary artists working in Brighton and Hove.

Among the work Yellow House has licensed has been cold foiled cards that replicate the enamels of Janine Partington, a pop up children’s book by Brighton illustrator Craig Shuttlewood and greetings cards printed from Jane Robbins’ paper cutouts.

The demands of the company and family commitments have left Boden Spiers with little time for her own work over the past two years. She’s still open to commissions, but she would most like to get back to more personal projects, such as large-scale wall hangings.

“If I could do my own work again, I would like to just focus on my own practice, have space to play.”

Textiles have a difficult place in the art world though, she says.

“Within a hierarchy of art, painting is number one. Paintings have always been a symbol of status.”

She talks about a “barrier” to textile art because of its domestic associations and the fact that people don’t always understand how it’s been made. She also believes that people may be afraid of its fragility, wondering if it will fade or tear.

For now her creativity is taken up with being a curator, but perhaps if Jehane Boden Spiers can find the time there may be another role for her in future as a textile crusader.

5 April to 15 June
From Downs to Sea: A Slice of Life
Seascapes, rural scenes and urban images by artists including Edward Burra and L S Lowry from the Arts Council Collection reflecting the experience of life between the hills and coast.
Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton, BN1 1EE 5 April to 26 May
On Balance
Two large scale abstract works by Swedish artist Jacob Dahlgren fill the gallery. Exhibition co-commissioned by Brighton Festival.
Fabrica, 40 Duke Street, Brighton, BN1 1AG

16 April to 9 May
Healing War Through Art
A reflection on the experience of soldiers at the WWI Brighton Pavilion Hospital for Limbless Soldiers as adult learners at the Queen Mary Workshop and the Art School.
University of Brighton Gallery, 58-67 Grand Parade, Brighton, BN2 0JY

26 April to 15 June
Local Name: Unknown…Gypsies?
A contemporary look at the complex history of the Gypsies through film, photography, artefacts, textile and costume by artist Delaine LeBas.
Phoenix Brighton, 10-14 Waterloo Place, Brighton, BN2 9NB